When I stop to really think about the state of modern movies, one shortcoming is perplexing above all others. How is it that there are so few creations that evidence an abundant, overwhelming, crushing love of moviemaking itself? We’re now deep into the era in which young, emerging filmmakers had the whole history of the form at their fingertips — if they’re young enough, quite literally. I’m aware of — and have occasionally snarled about — the need for major studios to buff away any complications from their products, a longstanding problem made worse by shrinking slates of releases. Even beyond that, though, a remarkably small number of films spark and shimmer with the exuberance of stress-testing the established grammar of cinema, finding bright, thrilling new avenues of narrative in the process.
All that preamble, of course, leads straight to a heap of breathless praise for Edgar Wright and his film Baby Driver. The film is kinetic crime epic, slipping into the passenger seat of a ludicrously skilled getaway driver known as Baby (Ansel Elgort). He’s mired in the malfeasance machinery of Doc (Kevin Spacey, excellent in a role that is, admittedly, right in his wheelhouse), an imposing figure who assembles ever-changing crews for bombastic heists. Baby is his sole mainstay, which makes Doc very possessive when Baby tries to go straight.
Wright’s screenplay is simultaneously dense and economical. Every detail is in place for a reason, either fleshing out the characters or establishing information that will eventually ping-pong back into the plot. It all means something, and it all feeds the film’s forward momentum. And Wright delivers it with an exacting directorial eye, piecing together the film with a kinetic clarity that is invigorating.
Perhaps the most riveting accomplishment of Wright’s construction is the way he unobtrusively cuts the film to the rhythm and flow of the nearly nonstop soundtrack. Baby keeps earbuds in while driving, substituting the radio only when necessary. Regardless, his existence is marked by constant music. In Wright’s rendering, the songs aren’t mere filler. The film is choreographed around them, whether its a long take of Baby retrieving a coffee order on a busy downtown street or a high speed chase with dozens of squad cars in pursuit.
The musical pulse of the film injects more adrenaline into a cinematic beast that is already zipping along with dizzying invention. Wright gives every indication of someone who has absorbed all manner of ancestral filmmaking and brought bits and pieces of it all to his own work. In that way, Baby Driver recalls the urgent, early work of Quentin Tarantino, before his primary affection was for the staccato redundancy of his own hyber-verbal nihilism. Wright is comparatively free, joyous, generous. Even when the narrative gets a little dark — the film has violence to spare — there’s a resounding sense of possibility backed up by the surging thrill of assembling sound and image and idea into one cohesive whole.
Movies are so, so great, Baby Driver insists at every curve. In the reflected light of Wright’s film, there’s only one reasonable response: They sure are.